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The Return of the King

Two weeks ago I woke up to a cryptic text from a senior journalist friend of mine: “HE’s BACK…AND HOW!”
Not the most illuminating as communications goes, you would agree, but I knew him well enough to understand his excitement. Mr. Murthy (for whom he has very high regards) had returned to the saddle of the iconic IT firm which he had co-founded. And his return seemed to have bolstered its sagging performance.
It might be premature to attribute INFOSYS’s turnaround to Mr. Murthy's second innings, but it would surprise anyone if that were indeed the primary reason for the turnaround. Because he seems to be in very good company globally.
Howard Schultz, Michael Dell and the redoubtable Mr. Jobs are some of the better known names to have arrested and reversed the southbound fortunes of the firms they founded. If we look hard enough we would probably locate many less celebrated founder revivals.
So why is it that the promoters are able to come back under strange new circumstances, roll back the years and deliver a performance that their highly skilled, well-paid successors were not able to approach, leave alone replicate?
Spare a thought too for those CEOs with wonderful track records who came a cropper after taking the helm at some wonderful, successful companies only to see them flounder despite their best efforts? Remember Disney?
What did these returning kings do differently then?  They just reclaimed their soul. Every successful founder leaves behind a unique legacy. Very often inarticulately.
The troubles of these iconic firms usually begins when new leadership attempts to raise the bar on performance without considering the role and influence of its founding legacy.
Analysts worry about whether Apple will continue to disrupt without Jobs. Can TATA be ethical and fair without a TATA?
While the term ‘soul of the business' may sound esoteric, it is the defining element of strong and durable brands. Customers consider, rebuy and advocate businesses that have a soul that resonates with their own beliefs. And for customers to hold on to that resonance, it needs the organization to bring the soul to work each day. Day after day.
When Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks, he took the tough decision of shutting all the 7100 stores in the US for a half a day as baristas were retrained in the art of making great coffee. It is only now that the analysts and investors get interested. The sheer consistency of performance that comes from single mindedness even in the face of adversity.
Customers werent just buying a great cup of coffee, they were buying the passion and commitment of Starbucks employees towards them. Retraining employees was about reclaiming that expertise so as to be able to embody distinct values into a perfect espresso.
Sometimes it takes an outsider like Alan Mullaly to re kindle what the insiders have forgotten about a FORD. Is it surprising really that he was short-listed to run Blackberry?
Founders instinctively know what the soul of their business is. And they know that when the business is floundering, that it usually has lost its soul. The other people who know this are the customers who notice (consciously or unconsciously) that something is amiss.
When founders come back, they Instinctively or otherwise return to reclaim that founding legacy. They remember the recipe with great ease because they discovered it.
Mr. Murthy's memory seems to be in great shape.
What do you think? 


Joe said...

the best example is Steve Jobs at Apple

Sumit Roy said...

You are quite right, Ramesh.

Most charismatic leaders don't know quite how to pass on their charisma to the brands they create.

I worry for Virgin without a Richard Branson. As I do for an Apple sans Steve Jobs.

But Narayan Murthy will be wise enough to know that no one is immortal. What would be interesting is if his son does successfully pick up the mantle.

Many Kingdoms have survived by the progeny getting the full transfer of loyalty that the beneficiaries gave their king.

Not many brand evaluators have been able to put a number on "loyalty", but clearly that's a force that has more value than all the processes that are put down in manuals.